For a couple of skaters who said they were “a little nervous and jumpy” Thursday night, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir sure did a good job of hiding it during the short program of the pairs competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
The Skating Club of Boston duo skated circles around the other nine pairs teams at the CenturyLink Center, posting a total score of 62.27 on ice that was roughed up by five pairs ahead of them.
That's 9.08 points better than the closest duo and a margin that virtually assures Castelli and Shnapir their first national championship with a clean free skate performance in Saturday's final.
“We came out here and everyone else has us as the leaders,” Castelli said. “But we just want to be great role models for everyone and prove that perseverance in the sport really pays off. We worked hard this year.”
Shnapir said their quick pace makes their routine fun for both them and the audience. Having the “Pink Panther” theme song as part of their medley made their routine that much more entertaining.
“We definitely train in these programs hard, and we're always trying to push all of our elements to be faster and the program to be faster,” Castelli said. “This is a high intensity program. It's a quick and fun program. It was fast, but it didn't feel out of place for us.”
The fight for the other two spots on the medal stand won't leave much room for error as just 2.35 points separate second through sixth place. Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay lead that group with a score of 53.19.
Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim are right behind them at 52.79. They would be in second if it weren't for a fall in the triple salchow and a mistake on their throw triple flip.
Scimeca and Knierim bounced back from their mistakes better than two pairs who were penalized for falls on their triple toe loops.
They've been paired for less than a year, but neither skater is using that as an excuse because they have gelled so quickly.
“I believe that Chris and I are really united,” Scimeca said. “I feel like he shares the same goals and motives as I do. So going out onto the ice each day, I really feel like I have a backbone behind me, and I don't think I've had that before. For me it's very comforting.”
Knierim said he and Scimeca simply will go out and do the best they can Saturday because that's the only thing they can control.
“This is our first nationals, and we didn't put any expectations behind it,” Knierim said. “We just wanted to come in and put on a good performance, and I think we did that even with the mistakes.
“Everyone is pretty close, and you always put pressure on yourself personally. We leave the judging up to the judges. It goes how it goes.”
As for Zhang and Bartholomay, an interesting blend of emotions helped propel them to one of their best performances in just their second national championship.
“We've been working really hard on having a calm aggressiveness throughout our program, and we really tried to drive that home today,” Bartholomay said. “Yeah, we had a little mistake here and there, but we felt really strong and pushed the nerves aside and got done what we needed to get done.”
Contact the writer:
* * *
>> Video: Scott Hamilton discusses commentating for the skating championships:
>> Video: 1988 Olympic champion figure skater Brian Boitano spoke with food writer Sarah Baker Hansen about his TV show "What Would Brian Boitano Make?"
>> Video: 2002 Olympic gold medalist figure skater Sarah Hughes talks about her Olympic win and her childhood connection to the New York Rangers hockey team: